Welcome to Michael’s UFO Article Page
ORIGINALLY FOR AN INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY ALASDAIR WILKINS
What was your inspiration to go into acting?
I was very impressed with Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront and Albert Finney in
Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. I thought that these characters were as near to
real, earthy people and much like how I saw myself at the time. I thought that I could do
that. Up till then the English actor was a bit “stiff” and had to have been in the “Forces”
or “Public School” to get a role. Finney and Tom Courtney really opened the market for
the working class actor as did many Stage Productions of the day. I was a “motor biker”
and drove around the streets of Ruislip and Rayners Lane on my white “Triumph”
motorcycle trying to look like someone out of The Wild One with a friend who looked like
I took up Amateur Dramatics because the group that my sister attended needed some
“bodies” to fill up the stage and as she had helped me out by paying some of my
motorcycle fines. I ended up with a speaking role and thought it might be fun to “give
it a go” professionally. I found some acting workshops and went from there.
In various publications, it has been written that you were “discovered” by
UFO’s casting director Rose Tobias Shaw, while other publications state that it
was Sylvia Anderson herself. Do you recall if it was one or the other, or was it
really a team effort?
It was really Sylvia Anderson. Rose was really officially casting UFO but it was really
Sylvia who was very “hands on”. She was very imaginative and took risks. To be quite
frank I don’t think Rose was ever a “fan” of mine. In fact she never hired me again!
Also, do you remember any screen tests that you had done for UFO?
Yes. I did test with Ed Bishop who was very supportive and kind as he always was both
then and subsequently. In fact we had a very good working relationship at all times.
The test scene, if I remember, was very much like the “confrontation” scene in Exposed
where I tell Ed Straker who I am and that I should not be taken lightly. I think maybe five
other actors tested and we all did the same scene, but I felt quite strongly that Sylvia
had me in mind from the beginning. Thanks Sylvia!
How did you feel about being basically “drafted” to replace another actor who
was originally going to play the Moonbase Commander? Or were you oblivious
Well, I did know that there had been an unfortunate start to the series but It all works out
about equal in the long run as I have been fired a couple of times since so I know how it
feels. This is not a profession for the “sensitive” or “squeamish”.
Gerry Anderson has frequently told a story about how you accidentally stepped
on Ed’s ankle during the filming on UFO, and how production had to stop for
6 weeks while Ed’s ankle healed. Ed Bishop however disputes this story, and
said that his ankle was never broken, and production did not shut down. Do
you remember anything about this?
Well, I have to support Ed on that one. It was a total accident and the production was not
held up for even part of a day. Ed soldiered on with the injury and coped with his usual
high degree of professionalism without a word of reproach. I have nothing but the
highest admiration for the man. I think with respect, Gerry has his wires crossed.
Are you surprised by the amount of interest or questions you get through your
Internet website www.michaelbillington.com?
Well, I am although they mostly focus on the same areas and so it is necessary to stress
that most of the answers are now in “public domain” but occasionally a new one emerges.
I never cease to be amazed about just how much the “fans” of the show observe and can
retain the smallest item of detail.
Have you noticed an increased interest in UFO because of Carlton’s UFO DVD
Well, Yes. I suppose so. Although I did not have a hand in promoting the DVD release in
Britain, I have noticed a “groundswell” in “hits” on my site.
Since both Gerry Anderson and Ed Bishop have done commentaries for the UFO
DVD releases, would you have liked to have done one? Were you asked?
Well, I have done a commentary with the director Allan Perry for "Kill Straker" which is for
the USA release of the DVD set and I think it worked out rather well and was a lot of fun.
In 1996 there was an attempt to revive UFO by an Australian, Albert Hastings.
The project received Gerry Anderson’s blessing and Ed Bishop stated he was
interested in reprising an updated Straker role. Did you know anything about
this project at all? Were you yourself approached to reprise Foster? Would you
have been interested?
Yes, I did hear something about it from Ed but I couldn’t imagine that it would ever get
“off the moondust” so to speak. You would really need people like the “Bond” producers
to make it a success I think. I would have liked to make a “character” appearance as
something like the “tough head of astronaut training” like Robert Duvall in The Great
Which work are you prouder of, your work on UFO or on The Onedin Line?
I have to say The Onedin Line. There were layers to the character of Daniel Fogarty.
I have to agree with one recent critic who said that my performance as Paul Foster was
fashioned from the “Wood Shavings of Captain Scarlet” but that’s what I though were the
requirements of the role at the time and I think in served the series quite well in
retrospect. I don’t think I could have justified trying to make it Hamlet as it was my level of
“capability” at the time.
How do you feel that UFO stands up after 30 years?
I think it is fine. I think it has become very much a milestone in the development of the
science fiction genre. I can’t imagine that Star Wars could have happened without UFO,
perhaps even more so than Star Trek which definitely had poor special effects in the
early days. Han Solo is a development of the Paul Foster character in my view. The good
thing about the series is that it is not only good for its time as far as Special Effects goes
but also most of the stories are “Character Driven” and therefore the characters become
identifiable. I find most characters in Sci Fi today are “Interchangeable” and often rely on
physical gimmicks such as heads that look more like a catchers mitt.
What do you think of your title as UFO’s Resident Action Man”?
That’s fine with me. I am just happy that people remember me at all.
Perhaps you could give for everyone your final word on the latent homoerotic
relationship between Foster and Straker? In your website you have pointed out
that you believe it is more of a hero-worship, but in a 1996 interview with the
UK magazine “TV Zone” you seemed to hint that you thought that there was
something more to it when you said, “I quite liked Kill Straker for quite different
reasons. It is full of double entendres and worked beautifully as a self-mockery
of a latent homosexual attraction between Foster and Straker if I can’t have you
then nobody will.”
Well, there is an unexplainable belief that Straker has in Foster. His trust in him goes far
beyond the logic of the plot. I mean why couldn’t he believe that Foster is a traitor in
Court Martial or beyond redemption in Kill Straker? Why does he recruit him into SHADO
so readily in Exposed? Was it Love at First sight? Think about it!!
What current projects are you involved in?
I am writing the BOOK for a new Musical. I don’t act any more.
Finally, what is your fondest memory of the work on UFO?
You know I do have very fond memories of doing the programme. It was all done so fast
and efficiently and rarely was there any temperament. The Pedal was down all the time
and we had to deliver quick. Ed was a master at this. The Cast and Crew were without
exception professional and helpful to each other and I suppose that says a lot for both
Gerry and Sylvia who had out utmost respect. It was also a good opportunity for me to
practice my craft and learn how to deliver over a long period and so I enjoyed just going
to the Studio every day. It was magic!
Michael Billington, thank you very much!
QUESTIONS AND ASSISTANCE PROVIDED BY KINGGODZILLAK (CHRIS DALE),
SHAQUI LE VESCONTE, AND MARC MARTIN
VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO MICHAEL BILLINGTON